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Committee looking at needs and wants

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Proposals are still being assembled, but it’s likely that the package of projects backed by the 2017 SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee will include a mix of community needs and wants.

At least that’s how the committee expects it to be perceived.

“What is fluff to one individual is a necessity to somebody else,” said David Newby, chair of the 12-member group of residents appointed to vet projects for funding through a 1-cent special purpose, local option sales tax.

If approved by voters in November, the collection would start after the current SPLOST ends on March 31, 2019.

Georgia law allows SPLOST money to be spent only on capital items — such as buildings, equipment, vehicles and infrastructure — not on salaries or other operating costs.

With the recession over, Newby said, he expects the governments of Rome, Cave Spring and Floyd County to submit “catch-up projects,” deferred when property tax revenues plummeted. But the president of Profile Extrusion Co. said the millennials he hires are looking for more than water, sewer and roads.

“Their culture is different,” he said. “You’ve got to have a good quality of life to keep them … (and) we’re seeking to meet the needs of the community as a whole.”

His assessment was echoed by several elected officials and committee members during the group’s first meeting last week to establish a vision and a process.

“I want Rome to be a place that, when your children go off to college, they want to come back here,” Rome City Commissioner Sundai Stevenson said.

For committee member Ghee Wilson, an FBI agent with a young family, the county’s quality-of-life features are also economic development lures.

“When you don’t have an interstate, you have to get creative about attracting business,” he said.

Members Mike Burnes and Doc Kibler also spoke about the value of special projects to fuel the local economic engine. Burnes, a retired financial advisor and tennis player, left Rome for the Naval Academy but returned 22 years ago.

“I can see what the SPLOST is doing for this community, how it’s helping us,” he said.

Kibler, a co-owner of Harvest Moon, is now involved in developing apartments on land that was drawing no interest until State Mutual Stadium was built with SPLOST money.

“It’s a good funding tool for projects that wouldn’t otherwise get done,” he said.

Other SPLOST projects that opened up areas for development include the widening of Shorter Avenue, the Loop 1 bypass section, the Armuchee Connector and the Floyd County Health Department, which helped revitalize South Rome.

Officials also noted some mandated items — such as the countywide emergency radio system and the jail expansion — that would have pulled funding from other sources if SPLOST had not been available.

A focus on ‘WIMBYs’

Committee members acknowledged adding a penny to the local sales tax is not popular with everyone. Voters approved a permanent 1-cent local option sales tax to offset property tax. With the state’s 4 percent, the LOST, SPLOST and ELOST for education, Floyd County’s rate is 7 percent on the dollar.

Jeff Chandler said friends told him he was “committing political suicide” by agreeing to serve on the committee, although he has no plans to run for an office.

“That’s why we have this citizens committee, to take politics out of it,” Newby shot back.

Tax money can’t be spent on lobbying to pass the package, so committee members will be out in the community talking it up. Julie Smith, a co-owner of Cycle Therapy and president of the trails group TRED, said she’s dedicated to marketing the projects they recommend.

“You’ve heard of NIMBYs, Not In My Back Yard,” she said. “In the trails world we talk about WIMBYs. This has to pass by more than 84 votes so we need to focus on the Want it In My Back Yards.”

The 2013 SPLOST passed by that narrow margin, with support coming from inside the city of Rome. Cave Spring Mayor Dennis Shoaf said he thinks the sewer project they’re proposing will net more “yes” votes from his city. The unincorporated area also may be targeted for improvements in the package.

Alvin Jackson, who also served on the 2013 citizens committee, said he’s already getting calls from people about the new SPLOST. He said he’s looking for projects that will make a difference in people’s lives and justify their expense.

“I believe in my city and my community. I believe being at the table,” he said.

Project applications will be available on the joint city/county website, RomeFloyd.com, and a PDF is posted on the Rome News-Tribune site at RN-T.com. The committee will accept submissions through 5 p.m. June 8.

While the package must be approved by the elected boards, officials with Rome, Cave Spring and Floyd County have all said they intend to make no changes.

“We’re going to support this committee 100 percent,” County Commissioner Scotty Hancock said. “What you vet out is what we’ll put out.”